By Glenn Perry
Recently there was a discussion on Facebook that illustrated what I call astrological prejudice. A professional astrologer got the ball rolling by posting the following:
“Simple question about Venus in Leo: How do you counsel these people? How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else? (Okay, this is a personal issue. My brother has Venus in Leo. Any random thoughts are appreciated).”
I was struck by this question and the conversation that followed because it seemed to endorse a subtle form of discrimination. Many of us know people who report how an astrologer looked at their chart and made some negative comment accompanied by a sneer or look of consternation, as if that person were cursed, afflicted, or simply bad. Apart from the underlying arrogance in assuming that one can know a person merely from his or her birthchart, I think such responses betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works.
In the question above, for instance, there is reference to ‘these people’ followed by a negative stereotype: “How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else?” (Implying they are all self-centered). Most of us will recognize that there is no “these people” with regard to a planetary sign position. The very phrase implies there is some consistency that applies to everyone who has Venus in Leo. As with any other planetary sign position, it is an ingredient within a complex mix in which everything affects everything else (in addition to extra-astrological factors such as age, maturity, culture, and so on, all of which make their own contribution). So, to reduce a person to a planetary configuration and expect to explain some negative aspect of his behavior on that basis alone is a prejudice in the same way that making sweeping statements about blacks, or Hispanics, or any other minority is a prejudice. The comment this astrologer posted on Facebook could easily be construed as:
“I dislike people with Venus in Leo. They’re so narcissistic! My brother had Venus in Leo and all he could talk about was himself.”
To be fair, a certain amount of generalization is unavoidable if we are going to create intelligible meanings about planetary sign positions. Yet, it is important to differentiate statements about a planetary configuration from statements about a person. With astrology we can describe components of the personality but we cannot reduce the person to the component any more than you can reduce a casserole to a particular ingredient. It follows that we should not make statements about whole people on the basis of particular parts; rather, we should make statements about parts, and then seek to discern how the parts fit together to make the person.
It takes some discipline to restrict one’s statements to parts, but it is a good habit to cultivate. For example, I can say, “Venus in Leo seeks intimacy by being showy and playful” without assuming that someone with Venus in Leo will necessarily behave this way. For there are other possibilities, too, as well as additional chart factors that will complicate the picture. If, for example, Venus in Leo is in the 12th square Saturn and opposing Neptune, these factors are likely to mitigate the native’s tendency to be showy and playful in relationships. Saturn might incline the person to feel anxious about his attractiveness and social skills. And the Neptune/12th house factor suggests that relationship needs could be repressed or sacrificed in any number of ways.
Of course, Venus’ position in Leo is still going to operate, but it will be so intermixed with these additional chart factors that knowing exactly how the Leo component will show itself is largely guesswork until the astrologer gets to know the person. Given Venus’ house position and aspects, perhaps the native works as an art therapist with individuals who are institutionalized for mental illness. In that context, he helps them develop confidence in their Venusian social skills by finding ways for his patients to collaborate on a joint art project, like a group painting. Here we see how the Leonian need for self-esteem and creative self-expression finds an outlet within that specialized setting. In effect, he facilitates fulfillment of Leo needs in his patients (12th house) through art (Venus). But this is a far cry from claiming our art therapist is self-absorbed.
In his personal life, he may worry whether he is sufficiently attractive to find a mate. If he is socially awkward and anxious, we might not be surprised if he focuses too much on the egoic needs of a narcissistic co-worker who is using him to cheat on her husband (he rationalizes that he is saving her from a bad marriage). The possibilities are endless. In short, real people are too complex to be slotted into simplistic categories based upon a single planetary sign position.
I imagine that the astrologer who originally posted his Facebook question knows what I am saying in theory. Most of us have heard the old saw that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, the way we use the language does not always reflect that. Differentiating statements about planetary configurations from statements about people is a subtle distinction, to be sure. Too often we pay lip service to the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but then make statements about a part of the chart that suggests a greater degree of certainty vis-a-vis a behavioral or event outcome than is actually warranted.
I take pains to let clients (and students) know that any statement I make about a part of the chart is just that: it’s about the part, not about them. Since the human brain is only capable of synthesizing three or four variables at a time, and since those variables individually and collectively can manifest in a multiplicity of ways, and since people are free to grow and change within the parameters their chart allows, the idea that we should be able to tell people who they are and what’s going to happen to them borders on the preposterous. How my clients express the full complexity of their charts is not something I can know from the chart alone. All of this underscores that being a good astrologer requires a certain tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, without which we are apt to presume things about clients that are at best simplistic, at worse untrue.
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